“The Bible is the great love story between God and humanity.” Pope Francis tweeted this out in January, and I loved the imagery that it evokes. The Bible as a love story. Our life of discipleship as a loving response to our God.
“The Bible is the great love story between God and humanity.” And, I would suggest that Lent is the season set aside in our lives for us to grow closer to our Beloved.
There are so many lines in Scripture that remind us to return to God, but here today in our Ash Wednesday readings, we hear from the prophet Joel, who tells of the Lord calling to us, saying, “Return to me with your whole heart.”
That imagery invites us to reflect on any ways in our lives in which we are distant from God – those habits, those patterns, perhaps even those relationships. What is it that is leading us away from our Lord? What is keeping us from fully saying “Yes” to God?
I think of Sr. Ita Ford, MM, who shortly before her death wrote to her niece, Jennifer, saying, “I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you...something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for...something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can't tell you what it might be -- that's for you to find, to choose, to love.”
Here was this missionary who had given her own “Yes” to God; who had been sent forth on her apostolic work; who had dedicated her life to working with the poor, those who were marginalized; who had found Christ in what St. Teresa had called His “most distressing disguise” and who had said “Yes” when she was invited to serve and care for Christ so lovingly.
What would that be for you? What is that for me? What is it for each one of us that helps us to hear God’s invitations and enables us to return to the Lord with our whole hearts? What is it that enables us to say “Yes” to setting the world on fire with faith as St. Catherine urged us.
I think, too, of how the prophet Joel says: “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” For me, St. Francis is someone who really lived that “rending” his heart. I think of him naked in the town square, having stripped away all that he thought was holding him back from that to which God was calling him. Lent is the invitation for us to cast aside any vestiges that are distracting us from completely responding and saying “Yes” to the Lord. To step back and examine what needs to be changed. Is it the way we spend our free time? Is it the way we spend our money? Is it the way we remain silent in the face of so many things in our world that break God’s heart and should break ours?
When we look around us today, Christ is still crucified in God’s people. Christ is still crucified in our brothers and sisters. We are invited, not only during Lent, but throughout our life of discipleship, to walk alongside Christ who has been brought to his and her knees and to assist them as Simon of Cyrene did. We are invited to look at our world and notice Christ who needs our gentleness, our compassion, our stepping forward and companionship, our wiping away all that is muddied and broken. We are invited to be true images of Christ to Christ, as Veronica was. We are invited, too, like Christ, to accept the help of those Simons who come to us when we are overwhelmed by all that is going on in our own personal lives and to accept the help of those who come forward to help us carry our crosses.
May this Lent be an invitation for us to truly be transformed. May this Lent be a time of recommitment for us, as we say “Yes” again to our baptismal call to be priests – and leaders of faith; to be prophets – ones who listen to God’s Word and announce it in our communities, our families and our world; and to be kings – ones who willingly and lovingly pour out our lives in service to those who are in need.
We are sent forth, as our second reading reminds us, to be “ambassadors for Christ” wherever we go. May this Lent be an opportunity for us to return to God with our whole hearts, to choose to love joyfully and to set our world on fire with our faith!
Karon VanAntwerp Latham
Karon VanAntwerp Latham has worked in ministry for the Catholic Church for the past twenty years, serving as a campus minister, hospital and hospice chaplain, parish minister, retreat leader and currently as a high school theology teacher. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in Pastoral Ministry from the Franciscan School of Theology.
Karon is grateful to all those who have fostered her loved of Scripture and have given her opportunities to break open the Word. She lives in mid-Michigan, with her husband and their three elementary-age children, all of whom have helped to deepen her faith.
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